Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lisa Robertson, _Rousseau's Boat_ and revisiting _R's Boat_

CHAPBOOKS REMIND ME a bit of the era of the EP era, and the recurring possibility that one or more of the songs on an EP might reappear on the band's next LP--were there grounds for resenting the band's expecting you to buy the same song(s) twice? I usually felt better--rewarded for my loyalty and attention--when no duplication occurred. On the other hand, was there a problem with having "Talk of the Town" on the second Pretenders album?  Not really. It sounded great both places.

Three of the four poems in Rousseau's Boat appear again in R's Boat, but it was worth revisiting, I decided. For one thing, there were a few revisions to ponder. For another, looking at the chapbook made some aspects of its successor's project more apparent, particularly its minuet with the idea of lyric subjectivity. Rousseau's Boat has a somewhat higher concentration (my impression; I did not tabulate) of  first person statements than R's Boat, and so it became more noticeable that some seem to be distinctly referring to Robertson ("It was the spring of my thirty-fifth year"), some seem deliberately fantastic ("I had the body of a woman as far as the hips; below sprang the foreparts of three dogs"), and quite a few could apply to almost anyone or even anything ("I'm just a beam of light or something").

The book conjures an "I," but you don't know that it's an "I" that has a name and a postal code. At the same time, it's not an "I" that seems utterly detached from the world of birth certificates and street addresses.

Both volumes have the same final poem, which seems to be comparing the text to a dropped scarf--and having read the poem in the chapbook, then the full volume, then the chapbook again, the penny finally dropped for me, and I thought, oh, as one can choose to drop a scarf, and it will take a certain, perhaps beautiful shape that one has participated in the creation of even though one did not foresee or design it, so one could compile a text of first person statements using some arbitrary or aleatory principles that somehow actually did approximate autobiography in some unforeseen, unintentional way--

Like the negligent fall of a scarf
Now I occupy the design.

--so now I should really read R's Boat again. Or get out Extended Play and listen to "Talk of the Town."

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